THE JAZZ MAN by Mary Hays Weik


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Relentlessly aimed at pity as the emotional reaction, always a reader strain when unrelieved, this nevertheless packs a wallop. Even given the transitional state of opinion regarding the selection of fiction dealing with minority and low income groups, Zeke's dream of the Jazz Man is bound to provoke some controversy. Zeke is a completely pathetic character, easy to weep over, never clever or strong enough to admire. A ghettoized Negro boy, one leg shorter than the other, isolated on the top floor of a ramshackle tenement he rarely leaves, Zeke relies on pressured parents who explode. His working mother leaves his job-hopping father when their disagreement reaches the ""you know what to do baby"" stage. Their somber moments of total peace together came only when the three had sat in the dark listening to their new neighbor, a jazz pianist play. (The insistently underlined Afro-jungle origins of jazz weakens the description of the family response.) When the mother leaves, Zeke feebly combats prying neighbors, waits for his drinking father, who sometimes fails to return, and begins to starve. In near delirium, he dreams of the Jazz Man as the source of plenty and comfort. At this point, his mother comes home and one small boy's idea of normality returns. The author does make you feel and is ably backed by the distinctive woodcuts of the illustrator. Our Harlem to Watts children may be able to recognize their circumstances in this, but it's complacent Suburbia where better missionary use of the book could be made.

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1966
Publisher: Atheneum